Groupthink: Collective Delusions in Organizations and Markets

51 Pages Posted: 13 Apr 2013

See all articles by Roland Bénabou

Roland Bénabou

Princeton University - Department of Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

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This paper investigates collective denial and willful blindness in groups, organizations and markets. Agents with anticipatory preferences, linked through an interaction structure, choose how to interpret and recall public signals about future prospects. Wishful thinking (denial of bad news) is shown to be contagious when it is harmful to others, and self-limiting when it is beneficial. Similarly, with Kreps-Porteus preferences, willful blindness (information avoidance) spreads when it increases the risks borne by others. This general mechanism can generate multiple social cognitions of reality, and in hierarchies it implies that realism and delusion will trickle down from the leaders. The welfare analysis differentiates group morale from groupthink and identifies a fundamental tension in organizations' attitudes toward dissent. Contagious exuberance can also seize asset markets, generating investment frenzies and crashes.

Keywords: cognitive dissonance, wishful thinking, toxic assets, financial crises, market crashes, manias speculative bubbles, market exuberance, morale, optimism, overconfidence, organizational culture, groupthink, cognitive biases anticipatory feelings, resolution of uncertainty, psychology

JEL Classification: D03, D23, D53, D83, D84, E32, G01, G14, Z1

Suggested Citation

Bénabou, Roland, Groupthink: Collective Delusions in Organizations and Markets. IZA Discussion Paper No. 7322, Available at SSRN:

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